Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/42388
Sexual violence (SV) can lead to long-term physical and psychological symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. Survivors of SV have reported fear of going through the process of reporting the crime. Exposure-based therapy has widely been used to decrease anxiety symptoms. More recently, researchers have used virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) to treat PTSD, and it has proven to have promising therapeutic efficacy. The purpose of the current mixed-method study was to examine the effect an interactive virtual reality (VR) courtroom has on survivors of SV (n = 25) that had not been to a courtroom to testify in their own SV cases and whether it would elicit more distress among those with high levels of PTSD. Quantitative findings indicated that PTSD symptoms did not have an effect on Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS) ratings during the VR task. However, the virtual courtroom did elicit increases in SUDS in every participant. Qualitative findings indicate that participants perceived control over the VR courtroom was not the same for all and while some participants reported feeling anxious and sad, others reported feeling good. Overall, all participants agreed that the experience had been helpful and would recommend the VR room for other survivors of SV. These findings suggest that the VR courtroom can help prepare SV survivors to appear in court and as a therapeutic tool to help them cope with the actual court experience. Future research should focus on making the experience more realistic and studying larger samples with comparison groups.
Keywords: Virtual reality (VR), exposure therapy, virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), sexual violence, courtroom stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
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